As one of ASEBP’s workplace wellness liaisons, I get to work with some very interesting people. I’d like to introduce you to one of them, Sarah B., an incredibly talented and high-spirited member of Elk Island Catholic Schools (EICS). Sarah works as a teacher and a wellness consultant for staff and students. She has been doing some amazing work and I’m thrilled to be able to share her insights with you.
Sarah and I only started our collaborative work last winter but the conversation started long before she and I met. It all began with their Faith and Wellness Day, which then turned into several inspiring meetings. Today, we work together to develop strategies to promote wellness in her school jurisdiction. Collaborating with Sarah has been an exciting journey, to say the least. To add to this, I also had the pleasure of chatting with Paul C. during this chat too. He’s one of Sarah’s leaders within EICS, the assistant superintendent of Faith Formation and Wellness. They’ve taken a collaborative approach to workplace wellness and have an interesting outlook to share—I don’t want to give away the farm, so you’ll just have to keep reading.
I was curious how Sarah got started in workplace wellness and how she worked her way into her current role as the lead wellness consultant at EICS, collaborating with the health champions at each school within the jurisdiction.
Kristyn: How did it all begin? How did you first get involved in wellness?
Sarah: It was my passion for health and wellness that started everything, really. I had reached out to assist in planning a wellness day and my enthusiasm grew into supporting health champions and organizing the Faith and Wellness Day for EICS. My position and time allotted to wellness grew alongside the momentum of the division and, ultimately, the creation of a faith and wellness department.
K: If you could give advice to someone wanting to promote wellness in their school community, what words of wisdom would you give them?
- Start with passion. Your excitement goes a long way! There’s a lot you can learn but you need to start with something you’re pumped about. I remember attending Shaping the Future, which turned out to be a catalyst for my wellness ideas and initiatives. It was a confirmation that “yeah, I’m in the right sector and I love what I do.” My personal interest in wellness aligned with what I was reading and learning and it was easy to share my passion with my school community.
- Converse over coffee. Have as many cups of coffee with as many people as possible. When I first started my role within the wellness sphere, I really had no idea where to start. I reached out to a friend from another division for some wisdom and she gave me the great coffee advice I still live by. It’s so important to build connections with your community to really gain insight into what people want. Before you push forward with an idea, it’s important to connect with people that will help you along the way—and, needless to say, my consumption of coffee has skyrocketed.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to go outside the box. Rarely do cool things happen when you start them the way they’ve always been done. I am constantly searching for fun ideas, turning that into networking opportunities with the right people at the right time. With support under your belt, it confirms you’re heading in the right direction. Sometimes it’s not about seeing the finish line. Rather, it’s about gaining momentum for the journey. Some ideas may flop but, more importantly, some ideas actually turn into something great.
- Focus on leadership support. I was lucky to connect with Paul as we shared similar visions and both valued wellness on a holistic and systems level. We each brought our ideas to the table, with different angles to the same concepts. Paul, providing support at the top, gave traction to workplace wellness at EICS. He was able to advocate on higher levels and was instrumental in gaining momentum for our initiatives. To this day, we continue to have well-rounded conversations about wellness.
Paul: We have come to the revelation that children can’t learn unless they are well. [EICS] can’t function unless our staff is well. This had to be the first consideration, which has led us to adopting wellness as one of our divisional goals this year.
S: Exactly! And that leads into my next couple of tips.
- Partnerships matter. I learned to work with local partners, such as ASEBP and Alberta Health Services, more closely. They give me structure and practical advice to help me move ideas into reality. You (Kristyn) and I worked together on a plan to communicate wellness to all staff. I now have my year broken down into different messages and themes on wellness. I was always busy doing the “to dos” and the actual organizing but strategy of the “to dos” was something I could never get around to. You gave me guidance and experience of the HOW and connected me to all of these resources I didn’t know existed to put it all into action.
- Wellness is a pre-requisite. Wellness has to come first. It can’t be a “maybe if we have time” strategy or “during the in-between moments” kind of thinking. It should be integrated into the every day as well as the divisional goals. At EICS, we see wellness as a shared responsibility and something that isn’t just added onto your day. It’s an integral part of well-being for staff. Getting people on board with the WHY of what we’re doing and getting support is key.
K: So there you have it, folks. A division-wide wellness strategy starting with a few simple steps. No matter where you are in terms of workplace readiness, there are always things you can implement, colleagues you can speak with and ideas you can bring to life—no matter how big or small.
Feeling inspired to start? Check out the Sandbox forum for more ideas across the province and share your own. Are you in charge of wellness for your school jurisdiction? Connect with an ASEBP workplace wellness liaison and get started right away!